People started lining up before polling stations opened despite storms and drizzle as three main coalitions battle for power.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Polls have opened in Malaysia for an election likely to set the pace of reform in the Southeast Asian nation over the next five years.
Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob called elections early in a bid to restore “stability” in Malaysia after three prime ministers in almost as many years.
Ismail Sabri’s Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, dominated by his UMNO party, hopes to secure a simple majority of the 222 seats in the lower house of parliament, known as the Dewan Rakyat. But it faces stiff challenge from Pakatan Harapan, who won the last election in May 2018, and Perikatan Nasional, who emerged from the collapse of that government.
Voters began arriving well ahead of the polling stations opening at 08:00 (00:00 GMT) local time, with queues forming early on. The polls will continue until 6pm (10pm GMT) and the result is expected in the early hours.
Queues formed at polling stations in Kuala Lumpur and the southern city of Johor Bahru as an early morning thunderstorm gave way to overcast skies and drizzle.
“There seems to be a quiet determination among people to vote,” Thomas Fann, president of BERSIH, a civil society group that campaigns for free and fair elections, told Al Jazeera.
Heading into Election Day, analysts said the result was too close to call and made more complicated by the presence of about six million new voters after the implementation of automatic registration. About 1.4 million voters are young people between the ages of 18 and 20 who are allowed to vote for the first time.
Campaign in the the past few days have been intense, with candidates having informal conversations with voters, walkabouts, and larger gatherings known as ceramah. Malaysians are more ambivalent about the election than in 2018, with analysts saying as many as a third of people had yet to make a decision in the last week of the campaign.
Pakatan’s victory in 2018 marked the first time the opposition came to power in Malaysia’s 60 years as an independent nation and reflected public anger at the billion dollar scandal at 1MDB – a state fund supposedly created to encourage development.
Then-Prime Minister Najib Razak is now in prison, having been convicted in the first of five trials related to the fund.
UMNO’s president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is also on trial for corruption and is widely believed to have pressured Ismail Sabri to hold the elections early and during the rainy season.
Official Adilla, who preferred to share only her first name, said “stability” was important to her after the recent succession of governments and prime ministers, and that development should be spread beyond the cities to more rural areas.
Voting in western Kuala Lumpur, the 38-year-old said she first thought it was important to choose a coalition over the individual candidate, but then decided that the representative was also important.
“I want someone who has a voice and can change something,” she told Al Jazeera.
Another voter said he voted because it was his duty.
“If you don’t choose, don’t complain,” said the 40-year-old finance officer who declined to share his full name.
Voting is also taking place in three states where BN formed the government.